Objective The aim of this study was to evaluate the current status of handling and learning from sentinel events (SEs) in Dutch academic hospitals and to develop a basis for the first steps in a joint and transparent approach to improve learning from SEs.

Design Survey by the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) as part of the project ‘Quality-based Governance’.

Participants and setting All eight Dutch University Medical Centres (UMCs).

Results Three methods are used to identify the root cause of SEs: the Systematic Incident Reconstruction and Evaluation, Prevention and Recovery Information System for Monitoring and Analysis or TRIPOD method. Experts with different backgrounds are involved in the analysis of SEs. UMCs have different policies regarding the selection of recommendations for implementation. Some UMCs implement all recommendations formulated by the analysis team and in some UMCs the head of the involved department selects recommendations for implementation. No predetermined criteria have been established for this selection. Most UMCs confirm that similar SEs reoccur, which might be due to the quality of the analysis of the SEs or the quality of the recommendations.

Conclusion There is a large variety in handling SEs in Dutch academic hospitals and standards for the selection of recommendations are lacking. A next step to decrease the number of (similar) SEs lies in a joint and transparent approach to objectively assess recommendations and further define strategies for successful implementation. Selecting high-quality recommendations for implementation has the potential to lead to a decrease in the number of (similar) SEs and increase in the quality and safety of Dutch healthcare.